I started reading at almost three years old and by 2nd grade, I was reading at Middle School comprehension levels. One of the boys in my class, Chris, was also an accelerated reader so our teacher allowed us to check out library books reserved only for 5th graders.
Sitting on nylon mats with legs folded underneath ourselves, we helped each other with the phonetics and definitions of words new to us. He never made fun of me when I stumbled over words that seemed to be too many consonants, not enough vowels; my strength was in understanding passages and tone. There, in the quiet reading section of our classroom, while everyone went to recess, we read. And in between chapters of Bridge to Terabithia it happened. I fell in (puppy) love.
I was living recess to recess, praying the teacher would grant extended minutes of play and we could continue to read. The time spent reading with Chris was a welcome change from the rest of the school day, when our classmates would tease me. I was pretty easy to pick on as I was chubby and spoke with a lisp. But when I read, these things didn’t matter. Books took me elsewhere, to a world where no one laughed because I struggled with saying, “Sufferin’ succotash!” and spaghetti. A world I shared with him, who told me, I was the smartest girl he knew. I asked my mother for an extra dollar for the Book Fair so I could buy us matching bookmarks. I still remember presenting it to him at the end of the school year. With the gift came bad news though, as I told him my family was moving and that I would not be back that Fall.
That was the last time I saw Chris. I made friends with my new classmates, eventually spending my recess outside playing kickball, in which I did not totally suck. But every so often, I’d ask my teacher if I could sit indoors, on a nylon mat to read. When the whistle blew, I’d mark my place with the bookmark identical to the one I gave him. The bookmark that not only reminded me of where I was in my book, but of my friend and the time I shared with him.